Wheeler Wildcats 5-AAAAA Region Champions MixTape
MARIETTA — Games that come down to the wire — like Saturday night’s Region 5AAAAA final between Lassiter and Wheeler — are usually decided by the team that makes more free throws.
Wheeler made the necessary free throws down the stretch as Lassiter struggled on the line.
Jacob Obande, David Lipscomb and Austin Smoak were a combined 6-for-6 on the line in the last 2 minutes, and Charles Wilson-Fisher added a dunk for good measure to give the Wildcats a 67-61 victory and a region title.
All this happened after Wheeler trailed by double digits early in the third quarter.
“We had to pick up the tempo,” Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb said. “Lassiter had us on the ropes and had to keep fighting. We did so until the very end.”
After returning to the region elite again, Wheeler (16-10) will host the No. 4 seed from Region 6AAAAA — either Alpharetta or Northview — when the state playoffs begin next Saturday.
Lassiter (13-14) will host the No. 3 seed from 6AAAAA.
While clutch free throws sealed the win for Wheeler, its 13-0 third-quarter run after falling behind by 12 points ended up being the turning point.
Lassiter shot well from the field in the first half — just under 50 percent — to take a seven-point halftime lead. The start of the second half went in Lassiter’s favor when Adam Dowell nailed a 3 from the left wing to give the Trojans a double-digit lead, and Juwan Dickey followed with a putback to make it 39-27.
But Wheeler called a timeout to regroup, and the game changed after that.
After Dickey’s putback, which came with 6:47 on the clock, Lassiter didn’t score another point until there was 1:07 left. Wheeler became more aggressive on the boards after the timeout, holding the Trojans to mostly one-shot possessions. The Wildcats’ 13-point streak began with layups and putbacks by a group of different players.
Chuck Mitchell finished a missed Wheeler shot to get within two points. And just when Lassiter thought it stopped the bleeding, Niles Clark’s layup was denied when he was called for an offensive foul. Wheeler then took the lead away from Lassiter when Obande sank a 3-pointer from the right side.
Lassiter finally scored again when Clark made one of two free throws, but Wheeler’s lead eventually grew to five points on Jaylen Brown’s three-point play.
And when Wheeler appeared in control during the final minutes of the third quarter with a seven-point lead following Obande’s layup off a turnover, Lassiter came storming back. The Trojans scored seven of the next eight points to end the quarter and got within one point when Alex Thompson banked in a 3 at the buzzer.
Lassiter held the lead early in the fourth quarter, but it couldn’t make enough free throws to pull away. The Trojans went to the line five times in the fourth and failed to connect on both of their attempts.
With Wheeler holding a two-point lead with 2:50 left, Lassiter had a chance to take it back but a 3-point attempt by Clark rimmed out, and Wheeler started going to the free-throw line shortly afterwards.
After David Lipscomb hit a pair of free throws to give Wheeler a five-point lead during the final minute, Lassiter turned the ball over on its next two possessions, allowing Wheeler to preserve its win.
“I think we got tired,” Lassiter coach Jeremy Morris said. “In the second half, Wheeler out-athleticized us. I thought we played hard and played with a lot of heart. We just came up short.”
Obande had a game-high 25 points for Wheeler, while Mitchell finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Jaylen Brown added eight points and Smoak had seven.
Clark poured in 19 points for Lassiter after scoring his 1,000th career point in Friday’s semifinal-round win over Marietta. Dowell had 10 points and Dickey added eight points and 12 rebounds.